Pushing Boundary-Free GroupLife

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Dilbert on The Power of Written Goals

Sometimes you just need to laugh. I don’t know about you…but I was over do!
written goals

You can see the rest of Dilbert’s thoughts right here.

Thinking Thursday: The way we think about work is broken

barry schwartzWhat makes work satisfying? Apart from a paycheck, there are intangible values that, Barry Schwartz suggests, our current way of thinking about work simply ignores. It’s time to stop thinking of workers as cogs on a wheel.

Can’t see the video? You can watch it right here.

Every week I choose a video that I think you need to see and believe will inspire some new thinking. You can find the rest of the collection right here.

How I Choose Studies for Small Group Connecting Events

chooseI get a lot of questions. And a very frequent question is, “What are the best studies to use for small group connections?”

Let’s just say I have my favorites. And I’ve listed them from time to time. But today I want to tell you how I choose studies for small group connecting events (i.e., small group connections, base groups, etc.).

How I Choose Studies

It’s actually not very complicated. I choose studies that I believe will appeal to the people I’m trying to connect.

I choose studies that I believe will appeal to the people I’m trying to connect.

There are a couple parts to that statement:

  • First, I know who I’m trying to connect. I’m not trying to connect everyone. There is a very specific kind of person that I’m trying to connect. If you want to choose the right studies you have to know who you hope to connect.
  • Second, I have an informed opinion about what will appeal to them. I know they will not be interested in just any topic. There is a set of things that will peak their interest. And…there are certain topics that will cause them to dismiss the whole idea. If you want to choose the right studies you will have to know what will appeal to the people you hope to connect.

4 key characteristics of studies that will connect unconnected people

Studies that will connect unconnected people are:

  • On topics that matter to most unconnected people (i.e., community, relationships, purpose, etc.). While there are some unconnected people who care about ancient prophecies, the end times, and who were the Nephilim…most do not.
  • Not too long in terms of commitment. 6 weeks seems to be the right length. Generally, unconnected people tend to be less frequent attenders at your weekend services. Committing to 6 weeks is a major step in commitment. Longer terms of commitment decrease the number of unconnected people who will say yes.
  • Show up and discuss studies. Homework or daily personal devotionals are something of a deterrent if they are required in order to fully participate in the group discussion.
  • DVD-driven with engaging teaching segments. The personality of the teacher does matter as does the length of the DVD segment. If the speaker has trouble holding your attention, you can bet unconnected people will struggle to stay engaged as well.

What do you think?  Have a question?  Want to argue? You can click here to jump into the conversation.

Image by Tony Webster


4 Practices of an Effective Small Group Ministry Point Person

practices thinkingThe small group ministry point person comes in many shapes and sizes. Some are solely small group pastors or directors (it’s all they do). Others wear many hats and the role of small group ministry point person is just one of the things they do. Some are on the paid staff while others volunteer their time. Some are seasoned veterans and others truly are in their first rodeo.

I’ve been all of the above. You may have been too.

Regardless of shape or size of your role, there are several practices that should be part of what you do as the small group ministry point person. And it’s important to clarify, there are a set of things that are not part of the role of a small group ministry point person. For example, the effective small group ministry point person will never be the small group champion. That will always be the senior pastor. Also, an effective small group ministry point person will almost never be the one providing primary care for small group leaders. That will be the role of the coaches within the system.

So what then are the practices of an effective small group ministry point person?

There are several:

  1. Non-stop watching for opportunities to move small groups from the back burner to the front burner. In order for the importance of being in a small group to end up being mentioned in your pastor’s sermon every week, in the weekend announcements when possible, prominently on the website and in the bulletin…someone has to be on the lookout for opportunities. If you’re the point person, that someone is almost always you. This is about regularly passing success stories to your pastor. It’s about being the most knowledgeable about best practices for communicating (website, bulletin, e-newsletter, etc.) and sharing your knowledge with the right people.
  2. Constantly doing to and for your leaders (or coaches) whatever you want them to do to and for their members (or leaders). Depending on the number of groups in your ministry, you’ll either be investing directly in group leaders or you’ll be investing in coaches who will be investing in leaders. Effective point people understand that this is not something you do when you have extra time. It is actually at the very heart of what your ministry must be about.
  3. Always on the lookout for potential leaders of leaders. Building a thriving small group ministry requires developing an effective coaching structure. An effective small group point person understands their own limitations and is always looking for high capacity leaders of leaders who can share the load and help care for a growing number of small group leaders.
  4. Thinking ahead about next steps that are easy, obvious and strategic. Developing a year-round small group ministry strategy that fits the rhythm of your congregation, crowd, and community is a blend of science and art. It won’t happen over night and it won’t be a one-time move. For example, your church’s annual missions emphasis may currently fall right in the middle of what should be an annual fall small group ministry launch. Or your church may have always used August to recruit ministry volunteers, but you’re realizing August is when you need to recruit hosts for the fall launch. Developing a year-round small group ministry strategy takes someone who is always thinking ahead about next steps that are easy, obvious and strategic.

What do you think?  Have a question?  Want to argue? You can click here to jump into the conversation.

Image by Jacob Botter


4 Problems I’d Rather Have

problems choicesOne of the 7 assumptions that shape my small group strategy is that there is no problem-free system, model or strategy. Every strategy comes with a set of problems. Wise leaders simply choose the set of problems they’d rather have.

So what are the problems I’d rather have?

  1. Less certainty about the qualifications of new group leaders. Every time I talk about allowing anyone to pick up a HOST kit or how group leaders are chosen by group members at a small group connection I’m immediately barraged with questions about how we can entrust group leadership to people we don’t really know. “Aren’t there times when using these strategies leads to the wrong person ending up leading a group?” My answer? Yes, there are times but they are extremely rare and our coaching team does a great job of mitigating this risk. And most importantly, you’ll never hear us say, “We can’t find enough leaders.” Bottom line: We’d rather have this problem than not enough leaders to connect unconnected people. See also, 8 Secrets for Discovering an Unlimited Number of Leaders.
  2. Relying on volunteer coaches to develop and disciple leaders. I believe Carl George is right about span of care and that “everyone needs to be cared for by someone and no one can care for more than (about) 10.” That means I will never have enough paid staff to truly care for the leaders in my small group ministry. And that means if the leaders in my small group ministry are going to be cared for in a way that enables and empowers them to care for the members of their groups…I will have to rely on volunteer coaches to do it. Bottom line: We’d rather have this problem than limit the number of leaders we can truly care for. See also, Take a Look at Your Coaching Structure Through 3 Lenses.
  3. Delegating discipleship to a lower common denominator. I believe discipleship is a very personal thing. The primary way Jesus made disciples was by being with them. Discipling the men and women in our congregation (and crowd) will primarily happen when they are close enough to the discipler to be discipled. This means it can’t be something that is limited to what a pastor can do or a high capacity volunteer can do. Discipling the men and women in our congregation (and crowd) must be something that can be done by the people closest to them. And the further from the core the discipler is the less certain we can be about the content of their discipleship. Bottom line: We’d rather be able to make more and better disciples than just better disciples. See also, How to Make Disciples in Small Groups.
  4. Depending on less qualified volunteers to do the work of the ministry. Since the role of a pastor is to equip the saints  to do the work of the ministry (see Ephesians 4), we need to spend more of our time equipping and less of our time doing. This means that volunteers will have to be able to deliver whatever we want to happen in the lives of the members of our groups. This really means that whenever we find ourselves doing the work of the ministry we are limiting the potential scope of the ministry. And the wider the scope needs to be in order to care for your congregation (and crowd), the more we will have to depend on less qualified volunteers. Bottom line: We’d rather be able to meet the needs of a growing congregation (and crowd) than limit care to what our staff can do. See also, Rethinking the Role of the Small Group Pastor.

What do you think?  Have a question?  Want to argue?  You can click here to jump into the conversation.

Image by Tim Green


Add “Thanks for the Feedback” To Your Must-Read List

thanks for the feedbackIf you haven’t picked up Thanks for the Feedback: The Science and Art of Receiving Feedback Well, now is the time. In my mind, Sheila Heen gave one of the best talks at the most recent Global Leadership Summit, and it was based on the learnings found in this book.

As I listened to Heen’s talk at the Summit, I found myself again and again thinking, “This is actually a key to discipleship.” In the days since the conference I’ve become even more convinced that becoming a mature follower of Jesus has everything to do with learning to seek out feedback and receive it well.

While it doesn’t read like a research based book, it certainly is written from deep experience, the result of ten years of “working with businesses, nonprofits, governments, and families to determine what helps us learn and what gets in our way.”

Working my way through the book I discovered it is jam packed with insight and highly teachable and very practical skills. The practices and techniques presented in Thanks for the Feedback can easily be packaged and delivered as a series of skill-training breakouts or team development exercises.

The set up is very good, first recognizing and identifying the things that get in the way of hearing and benefitting from feedback. Learning about the three triggers (truth triggers, relationship triggers, and identity triggers) that block feedback is eye-opening and provides key insights, making the practices and techniques understandable and why-didn’t-I-think-of-this obvious.

Thanks for the Feedback is packed with great take-aways and very actionable. My copy is highlighted and bookmarked and I am already looking for opportunities to implement what I’ve learned here.

Whether you want to build a great team or organization or simply become a better disciple, you need to pick up a copy of Thanks for the Feedback. I believe this is a must-read book for all of us.

Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links in the post above may be “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. I am also the Small Group Specialist for LifeWay. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Thinking Thursday: How Far Can Curiosity Take You?

james cameronJames Cameron’s big-budget (and even bigger-grossing) films create unreal worlds all their own. In this personal talk, he reveals his childhood fascination with the fantastic — from reading science fiction to deep-sea diving — and how it ultimately drove the success of his blockbuster hits “Aliens,” “The Terminator,” “Titanic” and “Avatar.”

Can’t see the video? You can watch it right here.

Every week I choose a video that I think you need to see and believe will inspire some new thinking. You can find the rest of the collection right here.

Quotebook: Receiving Feedback and Effective Discipleship

feedbackYou may have never thought of discipleship quite this way, but effective discipleship really has to do with the disciple’s ability to receive feedback. This important idea switched on for me at the Global Leadership Summit listening to Sheila Heen talk about feedback (you can read my key takeaways from her talk right here).

As Dallas Willard pointed out, “a mature disciple is one who effortlessly does what Jesus would do if Jesus were him.” And how will a mature disciple learn to do what Jesus would do if Jesus were him? Isn’t the answer “feedback”?

“It doesn’t matter how much authority or power a feedback giver has; the receivers are in control of what they do and don’t let in, how they make sense of what they’re hearing, and whether they choose to change.” Thanks for the Feedback, p. 5

Image by Ken Bosma

How Do You Measure Up to the 5 Intangibles of Leadership?

bill hybelsIn the days and weeks following the Global Leadership Summit it’s pretty common for me to work my way back through my notes and begin reading the books I bought.

This morning I spent some time thinking about Bill Hybels’ talk. He set up his talk by pointing out that “we define leadership as moving people from here to there.” He said, “leadership is not about presiding over something, protecting a position or pontificating about how smart you are. Leadership is about movement.”

He went on to identify the 5 intangibles of leadership.

Based on a book by Ed Davis, here are the intangibles identified by Hybels:

  1. Grit: “Grit is passion and perseverance over the long haul.” “Grit can be developed, but its archenemy is ease.”  “We must assign ourselves difficult tasks to grow grit.  Gritty organizations are unstoppable.”
  2. Self-awareness: Statistics show that every leader has 3.4 blindspots. A blindspot is something someone believes they do well, but everyone else knows they do not. Who can help you become aware of your own blindspots? Your direct supervisor and everyone who works with you.
  3. Resourcefulness: Hybels pointed out that organizations that grow resourcefulness among their senior leadership teams grow 25% more than their competitors. Resourceful people are quick learners, endlessly curious, enthusiastic experimenters and collaborators.
  4. Self-sacrificing love: “Self-sacrificing love has always been and will always be at the absolute core of leadership.” “The quality of your own loving will set the tone for your whole organization.”
  5. Sense of meaning: Hybels referred to Simon Sinek’s TED talk and book Start with Why and stated that it is “absolutely essential to know and be driven by your ‘white hot why.'”

As I re-read my notes today and attempt to evaluate my own leadership I’m realizing again that I have a lot of work to do. I’m asking questions like:

  • Do I have grit? How can I grow in my own grittiness? How can I lead my team to grow in grit?
  • Am I self-aware? What are my blindspots? Who can provide the feedback I need?
  • Am I resourceful? How can I grow in resourcefulness? How can I help my team grow in resourcefulness?
  • Is self-sacrificing love a characteristic of my own leadership? Or am I really just out for myself?
  • Do I have sense-of-meaning in my leadership? Does my team know what my “white hot why” is?

What do you think?  Have something to add?  You can click here to jump into the conversation.

My notes on Hybels’ session are the frantic scribbles of one desperate to glean everything possible from a powerful talk. You can find many more quotes in this post by Brian Dodd and this one at

5 Simple Mistakes That Sink Small Group Ministries

15556193740_f18ec95fa6_cFiguring out why small group ministries fail is not complicated. There is a short list of simple mistakes that sink small group ministries.

5 Simple Mistakes that Sink Small Group Ministries

  1. Allowing the senior pastor to delegate the role of small group champion. It may seem logical to delegate the role of small group champion to the small group pastor. After all, why have a small group pastor if not to be the champion? This simple mistake may seem logical, but when this is allowed to happen you announce to everyone that being involved in a small group is an add-on activity. You also fail to take advantage of the most influential voice in the church. See also, Rethinking the Role of the Small Group Pastor and Your Senior Pastor as Small Group Champion Leads to a Church OF Groups.
  2. Adding members to existing groups instead of starting new groups. It seems like the right thing to do, doesn’t it? After all, don’t you have a commitment to help small group leaders succeed? Why shouldn’t you provide a steady stream of new members to existing groups? There are at least two very good reasons. First, prioritizing launching new groups is a key to building a thriving small group ministry. Second, it is actually counter productive to add new members to existing groups. Once a group has been meeting longer than about three months it becomes increasingly more difficult for a new member to break through the nearly impermeable membrane that forms. Only the most brazen extroverts,  experienced party crashers, and friends of current members succeed. Everyone else finds breaking into the clique too difficult. See also, Top 5 Ways to Start New Groups. Lots of New Groups and Critical Decision: Add Members to Existing Groups vs Starting New Groups.
  3. Starting new groups without providing a coach. While building an effective coaching structure is definitely a challenging part of building a thriving small group ministry, providing someone with experience to walk alongside every new leader is an important key to sustaining the new groups you launch. Failing to provide a coach to guide every new leader is a simple mistake that sinks many small group ministries. You can start as many new groups as you’d like, but if you can’t sustain a high percentage of what you start your ministry will not grow. See also, 5 Steps to Sustaining the New Groups You Launch.
  4. Calling everything a small group. In order to invite unconnected people to something more than an opportunity to develop friendships, what you invite them to must be something that provides the essential ingredients of life-change. Unless everything you call a small group provides the essential ingredients of life-change, you will often send unconnected people in the wrong direction, connecting them to programs that detour them from where they need to go. See also, Groups of All Kinds and the Essential Ingredients of Life-Change.
  5. Promoting small groups on an annual basis. If the annual emphasis for small group ministry (alongside the annual emphasis for volunteering, student ministry, children’s ministry, foreign missions, local outreach, etc.) is the only time you talk about or promote the importance of being connected to a group, you will never build a thriving small group ministry. In fact, one of the most important reasons explaining Saddleback and North Point’s success at connecting such high percentages of their adult attendance to groups is that they never stop talking about small groups. See also, Top 10 Reasons Saddleback Has Connected Over 130% in Small Groups.

Recognize any of these mistakes in your own small group ministry?

What do you think?  Have a question?  Want to argue?  You can click here to jump into the conversation.

Image by ierdnall

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